The Court of First Instance of the European Communities decided that ‘cannabis’ was not permitted as a trademark in beverages potentially containing hemp.
Trademarks enable companies to prevent others from using certain names, but under European law it is not permitted to register a mark that is descriptive. This is to prevent the trademark holder having an unfair competitive advantage in the marketplace.
In the case of ‘cannabis’, Giampietro Torresan obtained a trade work for the word sign in respect of beers, wine, and spirits in 2003 at the Community Trade Marks Office (OHIM). This mark was then declared invalid following an application filed by fellow beer maker Klosterbrauerei Weissenohe.
Torresan appealed, arguing that the cannabis trademark has no connection, even indirect, with beer and beverages in general. But the Court pointed out that cannabis is used in a variety of food and drink products, all of which contain a very low concentration of THC.
In addition, the Court said the term ‘cannabis’ is well known to the average consumer, who is likely to associate the name with the drug. The name may even be a deciding factor in a purchase decision.
The Court therefore decided that the average consumer may think that a beverage bearing the trademark ‘cannabis’ is descriptive.
This was enough for the Court to dismiss Torresan’s action and uphold the OHIM decision to declare the registration of the trademark ‘cannabis’ to be invalid in respect of beverages potentially containing hemp.
Hemp is often used in food and drink products and some companies have been known to play on the drug association to market their drinks. A couple of years ago, the Portman Group, a UK-based drinks watchdog, removed from sale three cannabis-flavoured spirits made by Spain-based Beveland.
At the time, Portman Group chief executive David Poley: “The industry must not contribute to this attitude but instead distance itself totally from illegal drugs.”